Emotional labour has been widely accepted in the literature as part of nursing work, however the contribution of emotional intelligence in the nursing context requires further study. This paper aims to present an analysis of the literature on emotional intelligence and emotional labour, and consider the value of emotional intelligence to nursing. A literature search was undertaken using the CINAHL and MEDLINE databases. Search terms used were 'emotions', 'intelligence', 'emotions and intelligence' and 'emotional labour'. A hand-search of relevant journals and significant references added to the data. Emotional intelligence plays an important part in forming successful human relationships. Emotional labour is important in establishing therapeutic nurse-patient relationships but carries the risk of 'burnout' if prolonged or intense. To prevent this, nurses need to adopt strategies to protect their health. The potential value of emotional intelligence in this emotional work is an issue that still needs to be explored. Analysis of the literature suggests that the modern demands of nursing draw on the skills of emotional intelligence to meet the needs of direct patient care and co-operative negotiations with the multidisciplinary team. The significance of this needs to be recognized in nurse education. The link between emotional intelligence and emotional labour is a fruitful area for further research. The potential benefits of gaining a better understanding of how these concepts interact is largely conjecture until we have more evidence. The prospect that there may be advantages to both nurses and patients is a motivating factor for future researchers.